Rent or Buy, Provence or Gironde?

These are questions going through our minds as we wait for our next little one to enter the world. We were supposed to move to Challans in December to live closer to my husband’s family in Normandy. We decided to stay in Provence until the baby is born because it would have been too stressful – move across the country to a temporary month-to-month house while house hunting, and then buying furniture (we’ve only lived in furnished apartments/houses over the past 2.5 years in France). And now after passing it by, we’re thankful because the weather there is very similar to Normandy.

We know we should rent for at least a year in the area we want to buy a house. We want to buy a house within the next five years, so we need to finally settle down in the region we hope to buy. It’s tempting to buy a house now, however, we want to save enough so we either don’t need a mortgage, or can repay it within five years. And then we’re torn between buying an old stone home to renovate or a newer home that doesn’t need any work. For now, we’re keeping our eyes open for good deals. If one too good to refuse comes along, maybe we’ll buy sooner than later.

The problem is… where do we want to settle down? Our hearts are in Provence. We love our tiny village – the views of the rolling hills, friendly neighbors, and small commerce. Everyone is patient with my French and I feel apart of the community. After living in L’Estaque (section of Marseille), Bordeaux, and Lantheuil (15 min north of Caen, Basse-Normandie) – we finally feel home. Our only gripes are the nearest hospital and supermarket are 40 minutes away, TGV is 1.5 hours away, and airport is almost 2 hours away.

The reason why we’re moving? It’s a long trip to visit my husband’s family. We want to go to the US every year to visit my family, plus see his family for shorter durations throughout the year. From Banon, it takes 13 hours to get to Caen with minimal stops. With two kids… I’m sure we’ll be stopping more frequently, possibly taking us 15 hours. If we go to Caen at least twice a year and the US once a year, it will not leave us much time, if any, to go on little family getaways – we love traveling to Italy, Spain, and other countries. Plus, all those trips to visit family are expensive.

If you’ve been a longtime reader of this blog, then you know living in Normandy is not an option… at least, for me. I’m from Florida and didn’t do too well when we lived there for nine months. I couldn’t handle not seeing the sun for weeks at a time, and the wet and cold climate. My mood is too sensitive to the weather… gray days makes me sad. I have great memories of when we vacationed in Normandy, however, living there was too rough on me.

We lived in Bordeaux for almost a year and loved it. It’s a bit more gray and damp than Provence, but at least there is a real spring and summer. We began house hunting in Gironde to get an idea of what we can get for our budget. We need at least a four bedroom house – a room for us, two for the kids, and an office. We also want to live within 30 minutes of Bordeaux and a short walk from commerce. Of course, we need schools and activities nearby for the kids. I’ve found some interesting places within our budget, however, we need to visit the areas to make sure we like them in person. The drive to Caen will be about 6 hours.

We’ve been in Normandy for almost 5 weeks visiting family for the holidays. With each passing week, we’ve been searching less in Gironde and begun (curiously) searching for homes within Provence. It’s not that living near family is any less important – it’s that we’re reminded about how much we hate rainy weather. My husband mentioned the other day that as long as we lived near an airport or train, he could visit his family easily throughout the year, and then we could do one longer trip a year with the kids. It’s difficult to find a larger house within our budget in Provence, but not impossible. It’s too bad our home only has 3 bedrooms. If we owned this home then would convert the garage into a sound-proof office for my husband (he records French voice-over).

So here we are… confused. It’s great for our kids to live near family so they can get to know them. But man, we really love Provence. I love being surrounded by stunning landscapes – there’s such beauty everywhere we go. Even on my regular trip to Apt to go grocery shopping, I can’t help but to want to pull over and sit in awe at my surroundings.

The baby is due in June. We’ll visit family in Normandy in August, fly to Florida in November, and then start visiting houses around February 2014.

So what do we do? Do we move to Gironde to live closer to family or stay in Provence? What would you do if in our situation?

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  1. Hi. First time posting here… This is such a hard decision. I do suggest living where you love. It’s what we’ve always done, and have no regrets. I must admit though, as my parents get older, I wonder if I will feel the same way when they are no longer alive, and I chose to live away from them for so many years.

    We decided on the Lake Geneva region. Much like you bask in the beauty of Provence, I can’t imagine living somewhere I can’t see mountains. (I grew up in Indiana… could there be a flatter state??) But if you’re not happy, or the region/city doesn’t ‘fit’ your personality and family lifestyle and needs, you won’t be as happy as if you do what’s right for your family now. (Realizing this can evolve…)

    However, do think ahead to when your children will be older and don’t underestimate the time factor. They will have activities, school and friends, and driving them around to places gets old real fast– not to mention we don’t get any younger, and gas doesn’t get any cheaper. You don’t have to live in town, but consider proximity to shops, schools, etc. We did and LOVE that part of our decision (We have a home in town). And I agree being near transportation is great too. We have a train station in our town that’s a 3-minute walk from the house, and the Geneva airport is less than 45 mins away.

    It doesn’t sound like this is your case, but for us the biggest issue is commute time. Above all other factors with the exception of the mountains, this is the most important issue for us.

    Good luck!

  2. Provence of course! This is were the weather is the best so it´s were your kids will have more fun!! I live in Pertuis, near Aix en Provence and we left Paris 6 months ago. Our life is so different! We live outside most of the time.
    On the other hand, having your family close is really important when you have children. My parents live in Manosque and it´s a huge support for me as I have a 4 months baby.
    So if you have enough help from your husband, my advise is to stay where you love!!

  3. My advice: stay in Provence. I think it’s waaaaaay better to move closer to a main train line and visit than move up north and be depressed because of the weather. And how nice would it be to live close to family yet you’re unhappy and a wet blanket?

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